Monday, May 8, 2017

Monday, August 1, 2016

Johns Hopkins University scientists say recent Mars erosion not from flowing water

New findings using data from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show that gullies on modern Mars are likely not being formed by flowing liquid water

I suspect the tide is turning against NASA's flowing saltwater theory.   Still not sure if my "Cornice Avalanches on Mars theory" will be the ultimate winner, but I still like it.

Monday, March 21, 2016


I think this Einstein quote and Feynman video are keys to understanding good science.   The theory that salt absorbs water from the air and flows down in rather straight parallel fixed width paths that can cross and suddenly end can not be explained simply.  They don't understand it.  Cornice avalanches is simple.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Drying time for wet iron sulfate and salt with some sun

In the previous experiment we showed that a mixture of table salt and iron sulfate can absorb H2O from water ice in a near vacuum.   In this experiment we are testing how long it takes for wet mix of salt and iron sulfate to dry out with partial sun.   On Mars the RSL paths take many days to fade away so we are hoping for a similar result here.

Note this is not in a vacuum and using partial Earth strength sun instead of Martian strength sun.  Mars has far less atmosphere blocking UV.  We live near the ocean so the humidity is far greater than on Mars.  Also, we are not saying that Mars is 50% table salt and 50% iron sulfate but just hope that this mixture makes a reasonable analog for showing the ability to absorb H2O from ice while at low pressure and taking a long time to dry out.    So this is far from an exact simulation of Mars conditions but if it does take many days to dry out that will still seem interesting.

We mixed about 50% table salt and 50% iron sulfate.

We weighed them before and after adding some water.  Note it is far darker where it is wet.
Then put them on a temporary shelf by the window so they can get some sun.  The 2 on the left and the one on the far right are expected to get less sun and dry out slower.  Note that science does not care what your name is or how old you are.
March 13, 9:00 am

We will weigh them each day and record the results in the book and with pictures.  If you click the above picture it gets large enough that you can read the weights in our lab book.    Note that the wet part is spreading out and smoothing out over time.

So it seems iron sulfate can combine with O2 from the air and turn brown.   We are seeing some brown so probably this is going on.

March 13, 1:30 pm

After 4 1/2 hours (3/13/16 1:30 pm) the sun was no longer on the samples and we weighed them.  Note that the color is a much more smooth green now.   The #1 sample gained 0.1.  This could be from absorbing oxygen or from measurement error.  The others on average lost about 0.2 grams. It is not drying out too fast, so it could be an analog for RSL fading.   Ya!  :-)   More measurements coming.

Still first day but 7:30 pm.  So 10 1/2 hours and 6 hours from last measurements.  Samples 3-6 still lost a bit of weight even without sun.
March 13, 7:30 pm

March 14, 8:25 am
March 15, 9:13 am
March 15, 4:00 pm

March 16, 7:30 am
Even after 3 days it would seem drying out is going to take a long time.  Assuming it does eventually dry out, this could show behavior similar to RSL paths.   There is still some chance that the salt in our humid environment just never dries out.   More data coming.

One theory about RSLs is that there is salt in these paths and they change color as they absorb water from the air.  I don't believe this because any particular section of path always suddenly becomes dark as if an avalanche had suddenly made it all dark.   You can get sequences of pictures showing that they fade (assume dry out) over many days but there do not seem to be any sequences of pictures showing them gradually getting darker over any particular section of path.  Even our humid environment with dense air absorbing moisture from the air is a slow thing.  On Mars this would have to be very slow, so if it was happening there should be pictures sequences where they get darker.  Also, there can be one dark path and then suddenly another dark path next to it.  Salt on paths absorbing water would all go at the same time.  So avalanche fits the data better.

At 4 days there is clearly some sort of crystal growth.  It seems this growth is more in the more shaded samples or parts of samples.  I have to wonder if as it grows these crystals there will be more surface area and so it will then be able to dry out.  It could also cause a fading of color on the surface even if the part below was not yet dry.   Interesting.  If you right click to "open image in new tab" you can then zoom in to see more detail.

Since there is some oxidation going on it probably can not return to its original color even when dry.  So I now think we will want to do this again using the resulting mixture as the new starting point.
Again note that if you right click and "open image in new tab" you can then zoom in for more detail.
3/20/16 1:00 pm

3/20/16 1:00 pm sample #1
Zoom of sample 1
3/21/16   8:00 am
3/22/16  5:00 pm

zoom of #4 - click then right click to open in new tab for even more zoom
digital zoom of #4
I thought crystals had to be grown in a solution, I did not know you could grow them like this.  Surprising how it must work.  I guess salt water is flowing up the sides of the crystals and then drying.  To me this is an interesting result.  It seems it could be going on in Mars RSLs too.

Googling I find that when salt is coming out of damp masonry and making crystals it is called Efflorescence.
3/23/16  6:00 pm

zoom of #2
3/24/15  5:50 pm

3/25/16  11:30 am

zoom of #6
3/26/16 11:30 am
zoom of #1

3/27/16  both am and pm

3/28/16 both am and pm
Started weighing both in morning and at night.  It is losing weight (water) during the day and gaining some back at night.
Microscope on sample #1 at 3/28/16 midnight

Results (some even while experiment is ongoing):
1) A mixture of table salt and iron sulfate takes a long time to dry out, well over a week.
2) It seems to need to make crystals to dry out, which takes a long time.
3) It can lose water in the day and gain some back at night

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Ice in vacuum chamber on iron sulphate

We received our new 22 inch diameter vacuum chamber from Amazon and really like it.

The experiment above (3/9/16)was to see if as ice sublimates (turned to vapor in the near vacuum) some iron sulphate could capture any of the moisture.  Part of the Cornice Avalanches on Mars theory is that as an avalanche goes down some moisture is left in the soil, which changes the color.

The nearly empty balloon fills up as the vacuum is increased.

We could move the ice around inside the vacuum chamber using strings and magnets.   The magnets were inside a piece of sock and the string tied to that.  We also sprayed the sock material with Pam so it could slide around the chamber without damaging the material.  We had the ice tied to a washer and a string through that washer with a magnet at each end.  Then outside the chamber we had matching magnets for each end.  So we could move both ends of the string with the washer and ice.

We started the ice above its own plate and only after the water dripping of the ice was frozen and there was no visible liquid did we move it to the iron sulphate plate.   We left it there for a bit and moved it.   It did not show any color change and so does not seem to have picked up any H2O.

When we broke the vacuum there was a lot of wind, even at low pressure, and stuff blows around (including extra pieces of paper towel put in for this purpose).  The extra pieces mostly collected in one area, which is kind of fun in that it is like our theory for snow on Mars collecting into cornices.

Experiment by Amoni Cate and Vince Cate.

New experiment 3/11/16.

The one below is very much like the one above but this time with 50% table salt and 50% iron sulphate.
The salt and iron sulphate were mixed.  After getting to a good vacuum the ice was moved to the mixture.  This time it absorbed some H2O and changed color.  Skip to 11:30 in the video below to see the interesting part.  We think cornice avalanches on Mars are doing a similar thing.  The salt and other things in the soil are getting some H2O from the avalanche as it passes and changing color.

The H2O can chemically combine with the iron sulphate and so it could stay darker for days.  We will be testing this as well and posting our experimental results.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Action Items and Experiments

Action Items

  1.  More investigation of picture that we think shows cornices on Mars and other HighRise pictures.     

Experiments to find others to do or do ourselves

 1) Test if Martian wind can blow Martian frost

  Question is if Martian frost is light and fluffy enough to be blown by the thin Martian atmosphere.
Trying to find someone with a Mars simulation chamber to try this but may be able to do some ourselves.   Could have a tinny balloon and way to pop it.  Could have a nozzel to direct the expanding air.  By the time it got to the near vacuum it could be going fast.   Also think of using a CO2 cartridge type toy gun which is designed to release a small burst of CO2.  With nozzel this could be made into a wind.

Could also test with simulated Martian dust to see if the dust could push the frost.

We have a valve on our vacuum chamber.  When we open this is make a wind in the near vacuum.  We can show this does blow things like bits of paper towel around but have not shown it blowing snow.  We plan to do better tests but would really like to find someone who could simulate Martian snow and wind.

2) Test if avalanche can dampen soil in Martian conditions

It seems the paths on Mars are from some H2O getting in the soil.  If an avalanche is causing this then we need for a bunch of frost/ice/snow to be able to leave some H2O in Martian soil.   Since liquid water is not stable on Mars this is an issue.  So there is possible reason for experiment on this issue.

There seems to be some type of salt and salt can raise the melting point of ice and make liquid water stable on Mars.   We have some Iron Sulfate.  This can chemically combine with water and so take a long time to release the water.  This would fit with the paths lasting a long time.  

When an ice skater moves over the ice the high pressure under the skates temporarily melts some ice.  So it is also possible that the weight/force of the frost/ice/snow on Mars during the avalanche would be enough to temporarily melt it and let some water combine with the soil.

One Martian lander had dust and frost make drops of liquid water on its legs.  

It seems plausible that water could get into the soil from an avalanche passing over, but experiment showing this would be good.

We have done some experiments and can show ice getting a sample soil wet in a near vacuum.  So this part seems very plausible.

3) Are wind directions on Mars right for making cornices on the cliff faces of RSL locations?   

4) Are weather conditions right for snow at night and avalanches during the day when RSLs are active?

Experiments that no longer seem needed but might be fun anyway

1) Test if snow can make an avalanche in Martian atmosphere 

     The question is if we warm up some snow in near vacuum will it get soft and make an avalanche or just sublimate away.

    Want it just holding on to a steep slope and then hope it comes lose when warmed.  Might put a heavy weight on top to give bottom of snow some pressure to melt/slide first.  Might put whole thing in  freezer and then after showing it is stable turn on a warm light.   Might do it at room temperature with a weight and  warm light.   Maybe some salt under the snow.  Probably more than one experiment.  Still thinking what to do.  

    Could also test with dirty snow.  If  Martian dust is mixed with snow it might get soft before sublimating.

    On further Googling.  Note that Iron loses strength well before it melts and ice does this also.  Ice can go from able to hold 100 Kg per cm^2 to just 10 Kg.   Could test it this way, like how strong some ice is as we get closer and closer to the melting point.  However, it now seems obvious that under the right conditions warming snow can make it go from stable to avalanche.  On Earth warming of snow increases the risk of avalanche.   Not clear there is any point to experimentation on this topic. 

Experiments with hydrated salts

1) I think that something like Iron Sulphate is chemically combining with the water so that it takes a long time to "dry out".   It would be fun to do experiments with this but not sure about keeping the near vacuum for such a long time needed.   I doubt our vacuum pump would last anywhere near long enough.

Interesting Evidence

Trying to collect interesting evidence that could support or refute our theory of RSLs other other theories of RSLs.

Evidence Probably Supporting Cornice Avalanches:

1)   Paths in RSLs can cross.  This works for a cornice avalanche but not for water.
2)   Fixed width paths make sense for snow/ice but not for water.
3)   Steep slopes are needed for avalanches but not for water.  RSLs only happen on steep slopes.
4)   Cornices form near the crests of hills/mountains while other theories could have
       paths start anywhere.  Evidence supports cornice theory.
5)   Looks like white cornices in some locations that go away at other times.
6)   Winds on Mars can be 60 MPH, so even at 1% pressure of Earth there is some force.

7)   There is H2O frost on Mars.

8)   In this paper it says:
RSL fans in Valles Marineris transiently darken during or just after periods of high dust opacity [3], perhaps due to stability of deliquesced liquids into the afternoons when MRO observes. 
     It could be high winds needed to make dust also make bigger cornices.   Or it could be that dust in the air blocks enough sun that cornices build up bigger before melting.

9)  The RSL slopes show lots of erosion as paths are cut into rock and there are large debris fields.
      It would not seem that any fixed amount of ice or salt would be up to the job.  Something like
      cornice avalanches that could go on for millions of years could do it.

10)  Picture of an avalanche on Mars though probably started by CO2 frost and not H2O frost.

11)  Seems RSL more active after big dust storm.    " RSL were apparently more extensive in Mars year 28 (ref. 3 and Supplementary Table 1), after a planet-encircling dust storm started near Ls = 268◦ . To some degree this may be an increase only in the visibility of active RSL, because they have greater contrast with the background when they disturb a bright, fresh coating of dust deposited by the storms. However, RSL growth also continued longer (into early Mars year 29) in the southern middle latitudes9 ."      Recurring slope lineae in equatorial regionsof Mars

12) There is snow on Mars!  (even though I had been told there is not).
       Here we report on experimental evidence that clouds and precipitation play a role in the exchange of water between the atmosphere and ground on Mars. [...]

The Phoenix LIDAR observations have demonstrated that water-ice crystals grow large enough to precipitate through the atmosphere of Mars. In the early morning hours, the clouds formed at ground level and at heights around 4 km because these were the coldest parts of the PBL.  [...]
Eventually the ice clouds would have persisted within the PBL throughout the daytime, and water ice would have remained deposited on the ground. As the depth of the PBL decreased in late summer, this local process would contribute to the seasonal decrease in atmospheric water vapor (1). 
           In the early morning hours on sol 109, the LIDAR observed clouds and           precipitation that extended all the way to the ground (Fig. 2B).
      If there is snow, then it could naturally collect just past the crests of hills making cornices as it falls.   If it were frost there is some question of "could the wind on Mars lift the frost into the air" but with snow, it is already in the air so there is one less potential problem with our cornice theory.

13)  When the ice clouds seem to get snow to the ground is late summer nights:
            "The water-ice clouds were detected at the top of the PBL and near the ground each night in late summer after the air temperature started decreasing."
       And from this, the RSLs are active late summer:


       I think we have our snow just when the Snow Cornices on Mars theory needs it.  :-)

Interesting stuff on RSLs in general

1) "The absorptions observed in CRISM images of Palikir are too narrow to be explained by liquid water. Instead, they may be consistent with hydrated salts (Fig. 1). The rapid change in hydration state of the minerals imply that at the times and places where RSL form, either the hydration state of the minerals is being increased by the presence of RSL, or hydrated minerals are deposited by RSL and later desiccated. A linear spectral mixture of Martian soil with magnesium perchlorate, chlorate and chloride provides the closest match."   Spectral evidence for hydrated salts in recurringslope lineae on Mars

2) Animated GIFs of RLS from

Evidence Supporting Flowing Saltwater

1)  Drops of water formed on Pheonix landers legs.

Other Points to Ponder:

1)  Frost forming on low gravity from thin atmosphere could be extra light and fluffy and easier to blow than frost on Earth.
2)  Wind blown dust might push frost.
3)  Other features on Mars are carved from CO2 ice.  Wonder if the CO2 frost was also collected into cornices by the wind.
4) If there are ice clouds near mountain tops it seems that sometimes this ice must land on the ground.  As it lands it might do so in low wind side of mountain top, making a cornice.